October 12, 2010

Looking for Art at IndieCade

IndieCade 2010
Take a look around you in this, the gaming environment we’ve crafted for ourselves. Does it remind you of a museum or a demolition derby? I’ve often come away from a gaming session feeling drained if I’m playing an RPG, or shell shocked if I’ve been playing something like, say, Battlefield 1943. But have I been educated? I’m not sure, unless you count running in terror from active grenades or falling off a cliff a learning experience.

For that, I’m not sure a major developer can deliver. They’re too interested in reaching the middle; what’s good for all is good for one. Over the past weekend however, I was lucky enough to attend IndieCade, my first time doing so, and in another first, I’m left feeling rather worldly.

Take The Cat and the Coup, a game developed by Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad out of USC’s Game Innovation Lab. In this trek through the memories and events leading up to the US backed coup of Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister, we play as Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh’s fictional cat in an effort to persuade him through open doors and through the headlines of an American perspective of the event itself.

IndieCade 2010
Brinson spoke with attendees while sitting in a meticulously crafted chair from Gregg Fleishman’s Studio in downtown Culver City on the first day of IndieCade.

“War is on the mind of a lot of American’s these days,” Brinson said. “Some warfare we know about, some we don’t, and some are well represented in game history, like World War II.”

What The Cat and the Coup manages to imply from a simple interface of jumping and pressing a single button has international roots and, though you may be able to travel to different worlds in a Halo or what not, you’ll never be as personal as you are here. An outline of the cat appears in positions that you need to be, and it’s a bit trial-and-error to understand just what needs to be done. An added appeal stems from the game’s vibrant levels, strewn with quotes and facts that fill in pieces to a larger puzzle.

ValaNejad responded to a few of my questions via email;

“The quotes are from U.S. Sources that include headlines from the New York Times and Time Magazine, and notes from leaked CIA documents.”

Look for The Cat and the Coup next year as a free download, and prepare to do some research; it will leave you wanting to open a book.

IndieCade 2010
On the not-so political front, we have Limbo, already available in the Xbox Marketplace from Playdead of Denmark.

As a small boy, we are given the task of finding our sister in a darkened and mysterious world. While getting a hands-on experience, I managed to die several hundred times, all to the delight of the peanut gallery behind me. Eventually I handed over the controller and watched as she too tried to push through the game’s endless surprises. Though I had a short time to experience it, I had already begun to develop a relationship with the character as he tried and tried again.

IndieCade 2010
Limbo forces the player to notice traps and to discover ways around them. On one run-through, I ran and leaped over a chasm, only to find that the tree I landed on would fall and impale me. On my next attempt, I leaped over the tree to safety, where I was faced with a bear trap that distributed my limbs to various parts of the screen. Limbo isn’t as much a platforming adventure game as it is a puzzle, only instead of a key as the reward, you are able to live to try again.

Visually appealing in a gray scale environment, this innovative title is beautifully crafted and appealing in a very primal way. Whereas many games require a trip to another dimension to rescue a companion, there is something to be said about the persistence of our protagonist against malicious children and enormous spiders. It’s that can-do attitude that the developers themselves demonstrated and showed very capable of at each one of the gaming stations I was able to stop by.

IndieCade 2010
Even text-based adventure appears to be making a come back, if IndieCade is any indie-cation (I’m really sorry).

Korean developers Team Arex previewed their interactive story, misleadingly titled Groping in the Dark, about a young woman kidnapped and held in a spooky location trying to find a way out. Players use the mouse to change the Hangul (Korean alphabet) letters into images and erase them from existence to move on to the next screen.

Offered in four parts, the series shows a unique way to deliver a story, with an authentically creepy soundtrack to go along with the words on the screen. As of now, the game is unavailable for download, but keep an eye open for it in the near future, including plans to translate it into English.

Many of the games at IndieCade were built upon a thesis more natural to a University than a Gamestop.

Is this what makes art? A hidden meaning behind the basic mechanics, or an inspired interpretation of common boundaries? If so, then most of the convention was one large art exhibit, and when another critic makes erroneous assumptions on the merit of a videogame, just give them a few of these titles and directions to IndieCade 2011.

1 Comment »

  1. I’ve found that Limbo is a game that people who’ve already played it LOVE to watch other people play… ;)

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — October 12, 2010 @ 9:58 am

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